All sickness is not unto death allusion to Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), a Danish philosopher noted for his philosophy of Existentialism. Kierkegaard is the author of The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Exposition for Edification and Awakening, which contends that the "sickness unto death" is despair.
allow me to chew the rag slang for "let me speak freely" or "indulge me."
alpacas a thin cloth woven from the wool of a llama, often mixed with other fibers.
antiphonal sung or chanted in alternation. The allusion is to a child's game, such as "London Bridge Is Falling Down."
Aristotle ancient Greek philosopher, pupil of Plato; noted for works on logic, metaphysics, ethics, politics, etc.
armistice a temporary stopping of warfare by mutual agreement, as a truce preliminary to the signing of a peace treaty. Armistice Day (November 11), now known as Veteran's Day, marks the anniversary of the armistice of World War I in 1918.
arpeggios chords played so that the notes of each chord are played in quick succession instead of simultaneously.
aviary a large cage or building for keeping many birds.
"Back Water Blues" song made famous by blues singer Bessie Smith (1894-1937), known as "The Empress of the Blues."
balustrade a railing held up by small posts, or balusters, as on a staircase.
the belly of a frantic whale Biblical allusion to the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah is often represented as the bearer of bad luck.
bilious having or resulting from some ailment of the bile or the liver.
the black-belt people people living in a region of the Deep South known as the Black Belt because of its large black population.
the bronze statue of the college Founder, . . . his hands outstretched in the breathtaking gesture of lifting the veil allusion to the statue of Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee University (formerly Tuskegee Institute), which depicts Washington lifting the veil off the head of a kneeling slave. Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856-1915), founder of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, was one of the foremost speakers and educators of the twentieth century. A former slave, Washington believed blacks could achieve success without social equality through education and hard physical labor.
Brutus Marcus Junius Brutus (c. 85-42 B.C.) Roman statesman and general; one of the conspirators who murdered Julius Caesar.
charlatan a person who pretends to have expert knowledge or skill; a fake.
Charlie Chaplin pants Charlie Chaplin (Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, 1889-1977), an English film actor, director, and producer, was a famous comedian in the United States, noted for wearing big, oversized pants and playing a loveable clown in films such as The Little Tramp.
Chthonian of the underworld of the dead and its gods or spirits.
a crazy Thurber cartoon allusion to James Thurber (1894-1961), American short-story writer and cartoonist.
Danny O'Connell Irish nationalist leader (1775-1847).
Dante allusion to Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, a classic work that traces the soul's journey through the underworld towards divine enlightenment.
dialectics the art of logical argumentation.
Dick Tracy comic strip popular during the 1940s and 50s that featured a private detective who always got his suspect.
diminuendo a gradual decrease in loudness.
dugs a female animal's nipples, teats, etc.; sometimes used, vulgarly or contemptuously, in reference to a woman's breasts.
dunning demanding payment of a debt.
Earle Sande (sic) Earl Sande (1898-1968), a black jockey inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame for riding Gallant Fox to horse racing's Triple Crown in 1930.
ectoplasm the vaporous, luminous substance believed by spiritualists to emanate from a medium in a trance.
Edgar Allan Poe American poet, short-story writer, and critic (1809-1849), best known for his tales of horror.
epidermis the outermost layer of the skin.
ex post facto done or made afterward.
a few Pullman porters allusion to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful black labor union in the U.S.
flamenco Spanish gypsy style of dance (characterized by stomping, clapping) or music (typically very emotional and mournful).
Founder's Day allusion to the anniversary of the founding of Tuskegee Institute.
From your ma the narrator utters this phrase to "signify" on Brother Jack (engage him in a type of wordplay popular in the black community that generally includes insults aimed at "your mama").
fungo-hitter a batter who hits a fly ball after he has himself tossed the baseball into the air.
fusillade a simultaneous or rapid and continuous discharge of many firearms.
fyce a small, snappish dog.
General Pershing General John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948), a veteran of the Spanish-American War (1898) who was named by President Woodrow Wilson as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
heart of darkness allusion to Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, published in 1902, which centers on the cruelty of colonial exploitation in the Belgian Congo. The "heart of darkness" is the jungle and the primitive, subconscious human heart.
Heigho . . . Silver allusion to The Lone Ranger, a TV western popular during the 1940s and 50s.
helical having the form of a helix or spiral.
hobnailed boots boots with short, broad-headed nails on the soles; in this context, an allusion to Hitler's armies.
homburg a man's felt hat with a crown dented front to back and a stiffened brim turned up slightly at the sides.
honey wagon slang for a wagon used to transport human body waste. Honey wagons were used before the advent of indoor toilets.
Horatio Alger American author (1832-99). Alger sold more than 200 million books after the Civil War by writing about characters such as "Ragged Dick" and "Poorhouse Jed," who overcame incredible odds to succeed in life. His name has come to symbolize the journey from rags to riches.
Huckleberry reference to Mark Twain's classic novel, Huckleberry Finn, the story of Huckleberry Finn, a Southern white boy, and his friendship with the runaway slave, "Nigger Jim."
I might forget to dodge some bright morning allusion to Richard Wright's short story, "Bright and Morning Star," about a mother and son who are brutally murdered after being betrayed by a white "comrade."
James Joyce, William Yeats, and Sean O'Casey Irish authors whose works focused on the lives of the working class.
Joe Louis born Joe Louis Barrow (1914-81); U.S. boxer, world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949
Kewpie doll from Cupid; trademark for a chubby, rosy-faced doll with its hair in a topknot.
Lenox Avenue The intersection of Lenox Avenue and 135th Street marks the heart of Harlem.
like a bad dream of the Fiery Furnace allusion to the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). After being thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship a golden idol, the three Christians emerged unharmed. References to the fiery furnace signify a punishment that "boomerangs" by harming those who attempt to enforce it instead of the intended victims.
Louis Armstrong American jazz musician (1901-71). Lauded as the world's greatest trumpet player, Armstrong was noted for his unique impact on the history of jazz due to his technical skill in trumpet playing and his innovative style of "scat" singing.
Man o' War legendary race horse (1917-1947) that set three world records and two American records.
Men who seemed to rise up out of the sidewalks . . . allusion to the story of Jason and the Argonauts' "Quest of the Golden Fleece." To prove himself worthy of the Golden Fleece, Jason — by order of King Aetes — must sow a field with dragon's teeth, which spring up into a "crop" of armed men and attack him. With the help of Medea, the king's daughter, he defeats the men and escapes with the Golden Fleece.
moiling marked by confusion and turmoil.
Mother Hubbards full, loose gowns for women, patterned after the costume worn by Mother Hubbard, a character in a nursery rhyme.
a new birth of a nation allusion to Birth of a Nation (originally titled The Klansman), often described as one of the most racist films ever made.
nexus a connection, tie, or link between individuals of a group, members of a series, etc.
Nijinskys referring to the dancer's artistic movements; pluralized proper name of Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950), famous male Russian ballet dancer known for his leaps and jumps.
Nubian a native or inhabitant of Nubia, an ancient kingdom in Northeast Africa.
ofay slang term for "white person." One critic conjectures that "ofay" is pig Latin for "foe."
paddie slang version of paddyroller, a slave catcher who hunted runaways for bounty.
the Palisades a popular New Jersey amusement park, now closed.
Paul Robeson American actor and singer (1898-1976) who was the first black actor to play Othello on Broadway with a white supporting cast. He is perhaps best known for his powerful renditions of black spirituals and working-class folk songs such as "Old Man River." His career was eventually destroyed because of his controversial political stance and his outspokenness against racial injustice.
Peace, it's wonderful! a catch phrase attributed to Father Divine (George Baker, c. 1877-1965), a famous East Coast storefront preacher who became an important advocate for racial justice. He founded his first "heaven," or communal dwelling, in 1919. During the Depression his Peace Mission provided food and housing to thousands of people in Harlem and throughout the U.S.
perfidity betrayal of trust; treachery.
pince-nez eyeglass without temples, kept in place by a spring gripping the bridge of the nose.
play the dozens a form of verbal play in which the participants exchange witty, ribald taunts and insults, often specifically about each other's mother; used first, and chiefly, by African Americans.
Ralph Waldo Emerson U.S. essayist, philosopher, and poet (1803-82). Emerson is best known for his philosophy of self-reliance. Invisible Man author Ralph Waldo Ellison was named after Emerson.
Red Cap a baggage porter as in a railroad station, easily identified by his red cap.
rococo a style of architecture, decorative art, music, etc., of the early eighteenth century developed from and in reaction to the Baroque and characterized by profuse and delicate ornamentation, reduced scale, lightness, grace, etc.
rookery a colony of rooks (European crows) or swindlers (cheats).
sectarianism narrow-minded, limited, parochial thinking.
sharecropper a tenant farmer who works on someone else's land for a share of the crops.
smoker an informal social gathering for men only.
staccato made up of abrupt, distinct elements or sounds.
Stephen's problem allusion to Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of James Joyce's autobiographical novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the novel, Stephen represents the individual struggling against society to realize himself as an artist. Stephen believes his name provides a spiritual link to Daedalus, the mythological Greek inventor who created the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete, in which he and his son Icarus eventually found themselves imprisoned.
Sun Yat-sen Chinese political and revolutionary leader (1866-1925).
tam short for tam-o'-shanter, a Scottish cap with a wide, round, flat top and, often, a center pompom.
t-bees reference to tuberculosis, an infectious lung disease often referred to as TB.
Tell him we don't jimcrow nobody Jim Crow laws were designed to legalize discrimination against blacks.
Thomas Jefferson American statesman (1743-1826), third president of the United States (1801-1809), drew up the Declaration of Independence. Recent revelations concerning the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his black mistress, Sally Heming, focused renewed attention on America's system of chattel slavery.
Totem and Taboo a book by Austrian physician and neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), hailed as the founder of psychoanalysis. Published in 1913, Totem and Taboo elaborates on Freud's theories of the division of the unconscious mind into the id, the ego, and the super-ego.
Uncle Tom a term of contempt for a black whose behavior toward whites is regarded as fawning or servile.
verbena any of various plants with spikes or clusters of showy red, white, or purplish flowers, widely grown for ornament.
vespers evening prayer.
Weltschmerz German for "world pain"; sentimental pessimism or melancholy over the state of the world.
white man's burden the alleged duty of the white peoples to bring their civilization to other peoples regarded as backward (blacks).
Your arms are too short to box with me, son reference to the black folk saying, "Your arms are too short to box with God."
You're riding 'race' again equivalent to the contemporary phrase "playing the race card."